A Compost Entrepreneur Hits Pay Dirt
“Making compost is like cooking. You can have 10 people make the same dish from the same recipe but they won’t all taste the same. We like to think of making compost as an art form.”—Dan Blake, CEO of EcoScraps
You could say Dan Blake made his fortune on dirt. As a college kid at Brigham Young University marveling at the wastefulness of an all-you-can-eat French toast special at a local restaurant, Blake had an epiphany.
“I went back for a second serving after hastily eating the first plate, but ended up throwing away almost all of it. That was sort of the light bulb moment. I wondered what happened to all of that waste (from myself and the other patrons) and once I started researching food waste in America, I realized there was an opportunity,” says Blake, who grew up helping out in the family garden each summer.
Why not turn waste into dollar signs, thought Blake? After much trial and error (lesson learned: baked goods and Chinese food make terrible compost), at the tender age of 23 Blake launched EcoScraps which turns food waste into useful compost. Today the company sources more than 10,000 tons of food waste annually from businesses including Costco, Target and grocery stores close to the EcoScraps facilities in Utah, Arizona, California, Oregon, Texas and Tennessee. The company is doing its part to reduce the 30 million tons of food waste in America each year — half of all the food produced. EcoScraps' compost and potting mix, liquid compost and plant food are available online and at Target stores nationwide and many Lowe's, Home Depot, Sam's Club and Costco locations. Find your local retailer here.
Three Reasons to Compost
- Compost delivers a balanced blend of nutrients plants need to grow.
- Unlike fertilizers, which act quickly and can burn plants, compost is gentle and slow to release.
- Compost adds organic matter to your soil which allows for more oxygen penetration and greater water retention.
Tips for the Home Composter
- Good compost starts by increasing the surface area of what you are composting– meaning you should chop everything up as much as you can.
- A big difference between rotting and composting is the temperature at which it takes place; you want your compost pile to be hot (120 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit).
- If your compost pile is less than 3ft x 3 ft x 3ft it will not get hot enough unless it is in some sort of heat absorbent container (like a metal garbage can etc.).
- The ideal carbon to nitrogen ratio is 30:1. Carbons are your “brown” materials (leaves, newspaper, twigs, etc. — these are typically dry) and nitrogen is found in your “green” material (food, grass, etc. – these are typically wet).
- Layer your pile brown, green, brown, green etc. (it is like making lasagna).
- The compost pile needs to be moist. Here is an easy home test for your moisture content: Grab a handful of compost and squeeze it. If water squeezes from it and drips from your hand it is too wet. If it doesn’t drip, but keeps it shape when poked it is good to go. If it falls apart when poked it is too dry and will need to be watered. If your pile smells like ammonia and is leaking, then it is probably too wet — I’d suggest adding some carbon additives like dry leaves to solve the problem.
- Your pile needs to breathe. Make sure you turn it frequently. If it smells bad you need to turn it more. But don’t worry, if you don’t turn your piles they will still decompose, it will just take a little longer.
- How do you know if your compost is finished? A quick test to see if the compost is ready is to take a handful and seal it in a baggie for 48-72 hours. Open it, if it smells like dirt, it’s ready to go; otherwise the pile will need longer to sit and mature.